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Friday, November 5, 2010

59 Summers later, Finally a World Series game

While walking out of the Ballpark in Arlington the other night after the Giants ended the World Series’ hopes of the Rangers I was thinking back to the first time I ever saw a Major League ballgame. That was 59 summers ago at the old Sportsman’ Park in St. Louis, Missouri. My family was living in Taylorville, Illinois at the time and had traveled to St. Louis with another family assigned to the same seismograph crew as my dad. We made two trips that summer to see the Cards play. I was just a kid but I can still see it just as clear in my mind today as the day I was there.

The first game we attended was between the Cardinals and the Dodgers – the Brooklyn Dodgers – of the 1951 version. I had never seen so many people in my life as there were there that day. The crowds were terrifying. As we were making our way to our seats from the ticket stand and the entrance we were held up by security – my family at the very front, my brother hand in hand – while the Dodgers came out of their dressing room and made their way to the tunnel to their dugout. My brother, only thirteen months younger, and I had not seen very many black people (colored people as they were called at the time) in our short lives – even after having lived in Louisiana and Mississippi up until that time. As the Dodgers passed by my Dad pointed out certain players to us as he recognized them by their jersey numbers: “That’s Pee Wee Reese. That’s Gil Hodges. There’s Duke Snyder, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.” We just stood in awe of getting to see players we had only heard of over the radio; this was three years before we were to see any of them on TV – we hadn’t even seen or heard of TV at that time. Soon we were released to go down the aisle.

Having traveled not very far we encountered a family of colored folk heading to their seats also. The mother had three small children about the same size as my brother and myself in tow. My brother in his always inimitable fashion looked up at my mother and said in a somewhat elevated voice: “Look mama. There goes a bunch of little Jackie Robinsons!” Needless to say, there was some immediate shushing taking place even though my brother nor I understood at the time what he had done wrong.

We were Cardinal fans and I remain true to them to this day. My favorite player was always Stan Musial – there was no one better than Stan the Man.

You see the Cardinals were the most western team geographically in either league and therefore the team most familiar to those of us living in the Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma areas and listening to radio stations broadcasts. It was our team, my dad’s and I, and that’s the way I liked it.

That day I had the opportunity to see in action seven players and managers who would eventually make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame: St. Louis- Stan Musial (6), Red Schoendienst (2), and Enos Slaughter (9); Brooklyn- Jackie Robinson (42), Roy Campanella (39), Pee Wee Reese (1), and Duke Snyder (4).

Later that same summer we made another trip to see the New York Giants play the Cards. That was also a treat as I got the chance to see Willie Mays in his rookie year and several other Giants that were of note during that time and later on also: Leo Durocher (manager), Al Dark, Monte Irvin, Sal Maglie, Eddie Stanky, Bobby Thompson. Three of the Giants have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Willie Mays (24), Monte Irvin (20) and manager (and former player for the Dodgers) Leo Durocher (2).

That year the Cardinals finished third behind the Dodgers who lost in a three game playoff to the Giants with Bobby Thompson’s walk off home run. You remember Bobby Thompson don’t you – he hit the shot herd ‘round the world and “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

I checked the Hall of Fame website and validated the numbers. I currently have seen live 71 players, coaches, or umpires that are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is still time to increase that number as I continue to attend ball games – who knows where the final count will end up?

My son and I at Cooperstown and Stan's locker.

Having said that, I really didn’t see any player that might eventually match a hall of fame type career at the Ballpark in the two games I saw over the weekend. Tim Lincecum for the Giants and Cliff Lee for the Rangers are building their reputation but as yet do not come close. Maybe over time; we have to wait. But as far as the position players go, nobody stuck out. Josh Hamilton might have the goods, but he accomplished only a solo home run and the team was already out in front with a lead that was never overcome. He has to do more.

I did enjoy every minute of both games. I wish the Rangers had done better, but they were there and there were 28 teams that weren’t.

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